Coopersville Observer, October 18, 1912

Oldest Attorney Dead

James Cilley Passes Peacefully Away After a Few Days Illness

James Cilley, the oldest practicing attorney in Ottawa County, died at the home of Mrs. Thusa Treat early Tuesday morning, aged 85 years.

He was taken sick about a week ago and preparations were being made to take him to a Grand Rapids hospital, but he failed fast and the end came before the plans could be carried out.

Mr. Cilley was born in Rochester, New York, October 8, 1827, and in 1855 he came to Michigan, residing in Ottawa County ever since. Aside from being the oldest practicing attorney, he also held the distinction of being the oldest Odd Fellow in this section, having been a member for nearly fifty-nine years. He joined the order in January, 1854, in New York, and was a member of Coopersville Lodge, No. 376, at the time of his death. He served throughout the Rebellion in the Tenth Michigan. He leaves two sons and two daughters.

The funeral services were held in the Odd Fellows hall Wednesday afternoon, under the auspices of the order, Rev. H. B. Bard, pastor of All Souls Church, Grand Rapids, officiating. The remains were taken to Lamont for burial.

Coopersville Observer, October 25, 1912

Sketch of Cilley’s Life

Was One of the Best Informed Men in Both History and General Topics.

Thus passeth the pioneers of the Grand River Valley.

James Cilley was born in Rochester, New York, October 8, 1827. Orphaned and thrown upon the world at eight years of age, he fought the battles of life bravely and well.

May 8, 1846, he was married to Miriam Monroe. To them were born four children:

I. J. Cilley and Maria E. (now Mrs. E. L. Boardman), of Grand Rapids; Delia M., (now Mrs. E. S. Lynn) of Grand Haven, and Dr. E. O. Cilley, of Conklin, all of whom survive him. The family moved to the Grand River Valley, Michigan in October, 1855.

He built up a thriving manufacturing business in Lamont in the late fifties, which was rendered a total loss in 1863? by fire. Later he enlisted in the Tenth Michigan Cavalry, was soon promoted to hospital steward, and served to the end of the Civil War. Upon his return he established another manufacturing business, and though his early educational advantages were limited, the call of the law and insatiable craving for broader information was so strong that by over hours of study, while yet caring for his business.

he prepared himself for admittance to the Ottawa County bar in 1868, and was soon after admitted to practice in several other states and in the United Sates courts. He was conceded to be one of the best informed men on both sacred and profane history and general topics, and though he had passed his eighty-fifth birthday, he successfully practiced his chosen profession and seemed to retain his faculties to the last.

A man of indomitable will, he met his death call with the same calm courage that had carried him successfully through his life work. He was buried in Lamont under the auspices of the Odd Fellows lodge, to which he had belonged since 1854. He became a Mason in 1862 and was also a member of the G. A. R. He stood for strict morals in all society work, and strongly opposed this introduction of any unseemly side issues in the ritualistic work. ( Co.C, 10th MI Cavalry, Feb. 15, 1865 to Nov. 11, 1865)

Oscar and James Cilley built a large sash, door and blind factory west of Woodbury’s grist mill.

The night of the fire, the bucket brigade worked feverishly to save the buildings, but to no avail. They both burned to the ground.—Lamont on the Grand, Lamont Civic Association, 196


Picture of James Cilley, the Cilley Monument and Tombstones for James G. and his wife, Mariam (Monroe).

Transcribed and photos by Joan Van Spronsen
Created: 4 January 2010